The debate over how best to assess children's acquisition of knowledge seems to go round in perpetual circles. Pupils would rather be internally assessed because they feel it's more motivating and a more accurate test of their knowledge (p1). However, many teachers have reservations. A seismic shift in that direction would place a greater workload burden on them and, as the leader of the Educational Institute of Scotland points out, teachers might simply redistribute the stresses associated with external exams. Real life demands that many people perform under pressure - they don't get a number of chances to get it right. Should schools not prepare them for this?
Peter Peacock, during his tenure as education minister, was pursuing the idea of a single external exam at pupils' exit point from school. The coming months will show whether the new Scottish Executive follows his thinking. The education system will have to decide how it tailors assessment to the curriculum reforms. Under A Curriculum for Excellence, the level 4 outcomes are expected to be achieved by pupils across S2-3, but there is a potential overlap for those schools which opt to present pupils in S3 for Standard grade or Intermediate awards.
The assessment process is also facing significant change. Over the next few weeks, a minority of pupils will take part in pilot e-assessment exams (p17). They will sit them in front of a computer and their answers will be marked online. As banks of e-assessment exams are built up, this will create the potential for Martini-style exams to be sat "any time, any place, anywhere". Realistically, however, that is unlikely to happen. The school year follows a natural rhythm and a single annual diet is disruptive enough. Few could cope with multiple diets.